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'Confident of qualifying for Olympic quarterfinals,' says Indian striker Navjot Kaur

Navjot Kaur
Navjot Kaur
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 26 Feb 2020, 19:17 IST
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Known to be a predominantly defensive side in the past, the Indian women's hockey team have transformed themselves into a fast and aggressive unit that does not hesitate to take the attack to the opposition when needed.

Changes introduced by Scientific Advisor Wayne Lombard and Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne have ensured that the Indian eves now sprint across the length of the hockey pitch faster than ever before, unmindful of the ranking, physique, or reputation of the opposition with the strikers running amok in the attacking third.

Striking fear in the minds of the rival defenders are names like Rani Rampal, Vandana Katariya, Navneet Kaur, and young Lalremsiami - not to forget, the ever-ebullient Navjot Kaur.

The Kurukshetra-born striker, who dons the No.1 jersey with a sense of pride and commitment - and, who has been displaying her prowess upfront at the highest level since 2012 speaks exclusively to Sportskeeda, on why she believes the Indians will make it to the quarterfinals at Tokyo Olympics 2020 despite being pooled in a tough group.

How does a team that failed to win a single match in Rio - eventually finishing up 12th in the Games in 2016 - hope to get past the group stages at Tokyo after being pitted against sides like the Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland?

'The Asia Cup win 2017 was the turning point'

The confidence of the unit stems from a string of awe-inspiring performances over the last three years, or so, that has stunned the hockey world - making the Indians one of the most feared sides in the game today.

It all began with the historic win at the Asia Cup, in 2017, which propelled the squad to a whole new level, feels the 24-year-old forward.

Also check out: the complete Tokyo Olympics 2020 Schedule

The Asia Cup win in 2017 was the turning point - it was a tournament which gave us a lot of self-belief. The win in Kakamigahara helped us qualify for the World Cup and was, therefore, a game-changer in many ways.
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I feel that was the time we began playing aggressively and it got better and better with time.

It was Navjot who scored the opening goal against the Chinese in the Asia Cup final. The striker who honed her skills at the Shahabad Hockey Academy also scored a brace against Singapore and one against China at the pool match in a tournament that continues to be memorable ahead of Tokyo 2020.

The Indians began the year with a tour to New Zealand
The Indians began the year with a tour to New Zealand

The Indians performed well at the London World Cup but missed the gold medal, at Jakarta, by a whisker - getting to Tokyo was never going to be easy, but Marijne's chargers had a dream run in 2019 beating World Cup silver-medalists Ireland before winning the FIH Series Finals where they got the better of Japan who they had lost to in the Asian Games finals.

The final hurdle to Tokyo was the double-header against the USA - and, Navjot was candid enough to admit that the team was under a lot of pressure but handled it admirably.

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We started the year well playing Spain and Ireland as a result of which we had the confidence to do well at Hiroshima in the FIH Series Finals.
We were definitely under pressure in the Olympic qualifiers against the USA but managed to stay calm and performed extremely well in the matches that mattered the most.

The Indian girls began the Olympic year with a tour to New Zealand where they also got the better of Olympic champions Great Britain by a 1-0 margin.

The matches were extremely important for us with the Olympic Games coming up soon. I feel we did extremely well and improved with every outing so much so that we defeated Great Britain 1-0.

The Indian forward line is being bolstered with the arrival of several newcomers like Jyoti, Rajwinder Kaur, and Sharmila Devi - and, Navjot feels the team has a great balance of youth and experience.

The younger ones are extremely talented as a resulted of which the team is now gifted with the right mix of youth and experience as we complement each other really well.
The forward line has benefited immensely with the advent of the junior players.

'Janneke Schopman's experience will benefit the side'

Janneke Schopman who was with the USA team at the Olympic qualifiers is now in the Indian camp, as Analytical Coach, and the former Olympic and World Cup gold-medalist, from the Netherlands, is an invaluable addition to the Indian team ahead of the Tokyo Games, says Navjot.

Schopman was part of the Dutch women's team that won the title in the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 Olympics - this, in addition, to winning three Champions Trophy gold medals in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

"Janneke Schopman is a former Olympic and World Cup gold medalist and she brings to the camp some vital expertise ahead of Tokyo 2020. She has immense experience which will help us do well in the Olympics."
"She shares her experiences with us which I feel have helped us grow as a team.

With the priceless experience of Rio 2016 to count on, Navjot is confident that the Indians will make it to the knockouts in Tokyo.

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Rani and co. have been drawn with World No.1 Netherlands in addition to Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, and South Africa with the top 4 teams advancing to the quarterfinals.

"Our preparations have been extremely good and we are working on our deficiencies. I am confident we that we will qualify for the quarterfinals in Tokyo as we have worked really hard and will continue to do so."

The Indians will begin their Olympic campaign on July 25 and will face the mighty Netherlands in the opener before taking on defending champions Great Britain a day later.

Published 25 Feb 2020, 16:11 IST
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